When you board a ship, big or small, the world comes to you. Unpack once, then open your curtains each morning to discover a whole new destination. As a travel writer, I’ve taken more than 50 cruises, from polar expeditions to Pacific crossings to Pan-Asian explorations, on both press trips and personal voyages. I’ve learned there’s a vessel and an itinerary for everyone — even people who don’t like cruises. Here are some of my recommendations for one that might be right for you.
Best cruise for the whole family
Here, the bigger the ship, the better. That’s mainly because of the variety provided by a huge vessel. Teen zones with video games. Kids’ clubs. Broadway-style shows for mom and dad (or the grandparents). Late-night and early-morning buffets, available when anyone feels like a bite. For instance, you can sail seven days in the Caribbean on Royal Caribbean’s new Wonder of the Seas, the world’s largest cruise ship, which has plenty to keep everyone busy, even if you never step off the ship. You can zip line, rock climb, try the surfing simulator, dine in 20 different restaurants or just stroll in their recreation of Central Park, which has more than 10,000 plants.
Best cruise for the lifelong learners
More and more ships are integrating serious enrichment programs. Some offer regional cooking classes; others bring in astronomers to interpret the night sky, or local artists to share their methods and muses in hands-on lessons. But Viking has taken this a step further with the science on its newest expedition ships, Octantis and Polaris, which sail to Antarctica in winter and the Great Lakes in summer, among other itineraries. Both have built-in labs and conduct experiments and research on board, with scientists (drawn from partnerships with the likes of Cambridge and Cornell Universities) sharing their findings with guests in lectures.
Best cruise for folks who hate cruises
Fortunately, some ships simply provide the best means to go deeper into a destination. For example, in French Polynesia, a combination cargo/cruise vessel called Aranui 5 visits some of the Pacific’s most remote atolls, castaway islands where the residents are happy to show you their little slice of paradise. The crew is all Polynesian, and the cultural experiences continue on board the small, 103-cabin vessel, with dance and jewelry classes and impromptu ukulele jam sessions. Their signature voyage will take you to the Marquesas Islands for 12 days.
Personality: Really adventurous
Best cruise for explorers
Expedition cruises are opening up more of the world for exploration. Equipped with ice-strengthened hulls and supercharged stabilizers, these ships can reach areas of Antarctica and the High Arctic that were, previously, mostly off the map. For those looking to get there in style, Silversea’s Silver Endeavour is among the most luxurious expedition vessels ever built, with butler service, Champagne and caviar, and a hot tub at the bow, where you can relax while spotting whales and icebergs. Or head to Greenland on another new ship, Quark Expeditions’ Ultramarine. Outfitted with two helicopters, they’ll drop you on a mountaintop for a ridge line hike, then get you back to the ship for dinner.
Best cruise for the budget-conscious
Every year, especially in the spring and fall, ships move from one area of the world to another. Because most of the days will be at sea, these so-called repositioning cruises give you amazing bang for your buck: essentially a floating hotel stay, all food included, crossing the Atlantic. Endless sea. Shows at night. Arriving with no jet lag. A whole different vibe. For example, a 15-day repositioning from Rome to Fort Lauderdale this November aboard Princess Cruises’s Enchanted Princess, a ship with an infinity-edge pool on the stern, pools and hot tubs on the top deck, and movies under the stars, starts at $908 per person. Many people turn to the clearing house website Vacations to Go for deals (you can choose “repositioning” in their search tool).
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